NGW Wine School - S2 E21 - Central Italy


Resuming our tour of Italian wines, we come to Central Italy

In comparison to the South, the landscape is generally more mountainous and cooler. There are fewer olive trees and more pasture and this is reflected in the wines – lower alcohol, arguably more refinement, or at least more medium-bodied, balanced wines with a more savoury edge than overtly fruit-driven can be found here.

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Lazio, around the capital, Rome, is an area of huge and largely unrealised potential. It has a moderate climate, great geology, is mostly volcanic with some holly or mountainous sites but much of the focus has been on quantity at the expense of quality. It is ¾ white production, predominately based on the Malvasia grape family. For Reds, Aleatico, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and the Cesanese family of grapes make up the balance of largely unremarkable wines.

Le Marche is another area where the historic quality of the wines don’t quite match its current status. For reds, the two main grapes are Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Vernaccia Nera is used to make a sweet, sparkling wine that is now declining in popularity, whilst Lacrima is the local grape of interest. The grape itself nearly died out at it is a bit prone to disease and did not take to American rootstocks, but managed to survive. The main grapes for whites are Pesserina, Biancame, Verdicchio and Pecorino. Pecoroni being, arguably, the signature grape of Marche; it typically has good acidity, generous fruit and floral flavours and aromas and shows its best expression in Offida DOCG.


Moving to Umbria, which is landlocked between Lazio and Marce, things get a bit more interesting; the climate is continental, with the altitude of the vineyards tempering the heat of summer. The inland series of valleys that make up much of Umbria’s vineyards are very green, similar to Tuscany to the northwest. In Orvieto, Grechetto di Orvieto is the dominant grape, along with Trebbianno. Whilst Orvieto is typically a fairly neutral table wine, it can have some character and age a few years. At worst, Orvieto is light and neutral but here are very few truly bad wines and some can be superb, particularly with a higher proportion of Grechetto in the blend. For Reds, some superb Sangiovese is grown here but the more recent success if Sagrantino. This grape has low yields and needs careful handling; it has twice the amount of tannins as Nebbiolo or Cabernet Sauvignon.


Tuscany is the spiritual heart of Italy, and this is really a Sangiovese country. The three principal Sangiovese areas are Chianti, Brunello and Nobile di Montepulciano. Chianti, the most famous region, is dotted around and between the Renaissance rival cities of Florence and Siena. This is normally a medium-bodied wine, given its altitude. Chianti has had a bit of a poor reputation in the past, some of the cooler parts didn’t ripen fully and a lot of the wines we saw through to the 90s and early 2000s could be quite astringent and light. Choosing better clones of Sangiovese and better vineyard management have transformed this so, at all price levels, Chianti is now more uniformly good quality. Slightly further south is Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. This is slightly warmer and the wines tend to be higher in alcohol and body. Montepulciano, the village, is not to be confused with Montepulciano, the grape. Brunello is at the top of the Tuscan wines and is considered one of the best wines of Italy. This is the warmest area of Tuscany for Sangiovese and it shows; these are the fullest-bodied, highest alcohol wines, usually 14-15%. Whites in Tuscany are also excellent. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vernaccia being one of Italy’s top whites, full of minerality and depth and usually worth ageing.


The next region we come to is Emilia-Romagna. Bologna is at the centre of this region and is where Italian food culture is at its strongest. That being said, whilst the wines are not generally as distinguished as those of Tuscany, they are made for food.

A final area of interest is Pignoletto. Like Prosecco, it is sparkling and is named for the grape. Pignoletto is the local name for Grechetto Gentile and the wine is made in the Tank method, as is Prosecco. It generally has more depth of flavour and is a bit drier; however, it is dwarfed by Prosecco’s production by a factor of 40:1.

Hopefully, this has given you a good flavour of Central Italy’s wines. Watch the full episode to taste through 3 specific wines with Phil and find out even more about the area!

Next time, we are continuing upwards to North-East Italy.